Many of the most affected neighborhoods in the Gulf region have been missed by the state’s new vaccine distribution scheme, which has disappointed local officials and municipal clinics vying to vaccinate the region’s most vulnerable populations.
California’s list of more than 400 priority zip codes – for which the state will reserve about 40 percent of vaccine supplies – covers several lower-income neighborhoods such as Fruitvale in Auckland, North Richmond and Tenderloin in San Francisco. But in particular, there are no other areas where residents have shrunk and died from COVID-19 at high rates, such as Eastern San Jose, Eastern Palo Alto, Hayward, San Rafael and Concord.
In all, only 10 zip codes in the Gulf area are on the list – and none are in Santa Clara, San Mateo or Marin counties. Contra Costa has only one zip code, while Alameda has three and San Francisco has two. Sonoma and Santa Cruz are also completely absent.
“It’s a crime,” said Santa Clara County Executive Director Jeff Smith. “This means that the people in our county who are most at risk of a pandemic will receive fewer vaccines than the people in the counties who have dealt with poverty and health problems for years.”
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Galli announced for the first time the new vaccine plan for economic recovery on Wednesday and released the full list of targeted zip codes late Thursday. The state spends 40 percent of its available vaccine on these zip codes; as soon as it fires 2 million shots, the restrictions will be relaxed to allow counties to move faster through the resumption system.
The state has established a list of health equity metrics, known as the California Health Places Index, that ranks censuses based on income, education levels, access to health care, and other factors. Yet many communities that expected to be involved – and where the incidence remains high – were missed.
For example, the 95122 postal code of Santa Clara County in East San Jose has 1,358 cases per 10,000 residents – more than twice the percentage of the county and more than 50 percent higher than the total number of cases in California. Gilroy, which like 95122 ZIP has a Latinx majority, has a frequency of 1318 cases per 10,000 people. The state considers that neither is a priority postal code.
In Contra Costa, meanwhile, officials marked three zip codes – 94801, 94804 and 94806 – earlier this month to partner with John Muir Health, using what he said were the same “Healthy Places” criteria as the state, said former mayor and community activist Genoveva. Calloway. Yet only 94801 zip code covering North Richmond appears on the state list. Hayward of Alameda County and the unincorporated Cherryland and Ashland are also on their own.
Most of the priority zip codes are in Southern California.
In a news conference Friday, Ghaly said he had asked “similar questions” from various counties that their zip codes were not included. He did not offer them an additional vaccine, but said, “We are working to ensure that all the vaccine delivery districts they receive are targeted to the zip codes that are most affected in their county.”
“I was very, very, very surprised,” said Andrea Schwab-Galindo, CEO of Tiburcho Vasquez Health Center. “How does this work? Who is planning this? I understand that they will not be able to please everyone, but at least be aware of it.”
Around the Gulf area, municipal clinics and providers are working to prioritize vulnerable communities with visiting sites, mobile clinics and door-to-door coverage. Yet these efforts have been hampered by scarce supplies, which the new release aims in part to alleviate.
On Friday, Santa Clara County almost had to cancel a vaccination event in the Alviso neighborhood of San Jose due to limited doses of vaccines, said Reimundo Espinoza, CEO of partner organization Gardner Health Services. The provision of additional vaccines by the state would be a boon.
“I can’t handle the search. “I have stretched my staff to the point where I can no longer do so, and I continue to receive requests: ‘Can you go here, can you go there?’ To vaccinate people,” Espinosa said.
Complicating matters is the state’s new contract with insurance giant Blue Shield, which began controlling the spread of vaccines on March 1st. In their first public address on Friday, Blue Shield officials said they plan to bring all counties into their centralized system by the end of March. After assessing the overall supply by the federal government, Blue Shield will target doses to counties based on their eligible zip code populations, with enough vaccine reserved to ensure that priority zip codes receive a double share.
Mike Callaghi, San Mateo County Manager, said he had received word from Blue Shield that the partnership would not change much about the way vaccines are now being distributed locally. But without a clear explanation as to why places like Eastern Palo Alto and Daily City were not on the state’s list, he is cautious in the coming weeks.
“Here we have these vulnerable pockets of communities and life is life,” Kalagi said. “We have to get doses to take care of the people here, just like the rest of the state.”
San Jose City Council woman Magdalena Carasco – whose neighborhood includes parts of East San Jose – said she and other South Bay officials are working to get an explanation from the state. On Friday, she helped open a vaccination site at Eastridge Mall in East San Jose to better serve the nearby community.
“It’s like hell, man?” said Carasco. “Let us decide where the main workers are and send it where it is needed. Don’t handcuff us, don’t swallow us, don’t decide for us. We will better understand who is in our yard. “
Staff writer Leonardo Castaneda contributed with reports.